On June 15, authorities in Pakistan launched a full-fledged military operation, named “Zarb-e-Azb,” against foreign and local terrorists in the country. So far, more than 400 militants have been killed and 17 army personnel martyred. Several terrorist hideouts, bomb-making factories, training camps and other important installations have been destroyed.
Pakistan has been fighting terrorism for many years. As soon as the US invaded Afghanistan in the name of the “War on Terror” in 2001, the brunt of the flames started to scorch the Pakistani people. There was massive inflow of refugees from Afghanistan who also brought Afghan fighters and foreign-funded militants into the northern areas of the country. The important point about Zarb-e-Azb is that the whole nation is on the same page, regarding taking action against the militants.
For years, the US has been asking Pakistan to launch operations against militants in North Waziristan, but Pakistan didn’t pay any heed. Pakistan is a sovereign country and its decision-makers understand the internal situation better than Americans, and can decide what is in the best interest of the nation. The time when the US was forcing Pakistan to launch operations was when the Pakistani forces were already busy eliminating terrorists from South Waziristan. Opening up another front, without clearing that area, would have been a strategic blunder that could have resulted in disastrous consequences.
So why now? First, the new government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is more focused on economic development and dealing with an energy crisis. During the unrest, foreign direct investment had shrunk and investors were reluctant to bring their finances to Pakistan. Peace is a precondition for growth.
Second, Pakistan had already suffered a lot – more than 65,000 civilians and soldiers have lost their lives. Third, the armed forces gained experience in fighting guerrillas and successfully conducting operations in difficult terrains. Fourth, there was a huge public pressure on the government to tackle the Islamic militant issue. The government had used all available options, including negotiations for peaceful settlement, but the militants groups didn’t agree on anything.
The unity of the nation over the Zarb-e-Azb operation is evident from the public response in the media, which is overwhelming. Zarb-e-Azb has now entered into its second phase, where the ground forces have started clearing areas of militants. The biggest challenge faced by the authorities is the management of “Internally Displaced People” (IDPs). The government already has experience in dealing with IDPs; there were hundreds and thousands of them in the Swat region. They were fed and sheltered efficiently back then and it is being done again in the settled areas.
Sharif has said clearly that there will be no discrimination. Once the areas have been cleared of militants, the government aims to initiate development plans in the North and South Waziristan regions. Schools, hospitals and other facilities would be provided to the people. The writ of government would be ensured in those areas. Border security will then be enhanced to prevent the inflow of further militants from Afghanistan.
In this situation, it is the responsibility of the regional states, as well as the US, to assist Pakistan in eliminating the menace of terrorism. Afghanistan also needs to act responsibly in such a situation. The Afghan forces need to target the militants fleeing into their soil. A militant-free Pakistan would be a prosperous and progressive country and would contribute to the development of the whole region.
Global Times, July 7, 2014
Disclaimer: Views are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect policy of IPRI.